St. Louis Cardinals: This is a big year for Harrison Bader

Harrison Bader did not have a good offensive year in 2019 for the St. Louis Cardinals. Entering his fourth year, the pressure is on the outfielder in 2020.

It was just about this time last year where the St. Louis Cardinals unveiled their baby blue alternate jerseys with the young Harrison Bader trouting out as the first player to publicly wear them. There was a bit of chatter and curiosity at the time about how the Cardinals picked Bader after the unheralded prospect put up an average offensive year with his signature defense in his first year as a regular player.

My biggest conclusion from this and the Bader-centric offseason marketing of last winter is that Bader was part of the Cardinals’ longterm plans. That was fine with me but in 2019, Bader clearly took a huge step back.

His defense was still where it was in 2018, but instead of the 106 OPS+ and .756 OPS at the plate, Bader hit for a 78 OPS+ and an anemic .680 OPS. The offensive output netted him a trip to AAA midseason and he came back rejuvenated for a week, Bader soon slipped back into his old self. He showed almost no discipline against offspeed pitches and struck out way too much.

After it came out that John Mozeliak refused to trade Bader to the Mets for Zack Wheeler, it was clear that he is still in those longterm plans. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is changing.

I think I personally undervalue Bader compared to the average fan, I love his defense like everyone else, but for a team that had trouble hitting, he was a clear issue. I have a problem with the amount of playing time he got over all the other outfielders that could’ve hit more and produced more.

It’s for this reason that I think 2020 is going to be a decisive year for Bader.

It’s been said all over and I agree, but if Bader can just be average offensively, his defense makes him a super valuable player. By average, I mean an OPS+ of 95+. Anything more than that and the Cardinals should be happy.

It’s not a low bar, but it’s a bar that the Cardinals need Bader to hit. If he doesn’t, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see him either traded or relegated to the bench as a defensive replacement. That would be sad to see for sure after the promise he showed.

I hope Bader comes out of the gate pissed off and grabs the job and never struggles. If Bader does struggle though, Dexter Fowler, Dylan Carlson, Randy Arozarena, Lane Thomas, or even Tyler O’Neill could take his spot. The team has bodies, but none offer the center field defense that Bader does.

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Bader has the swagger, work ethic, and fire that the Cardinals need more of, but the personality isn’t what matters. The play on the field does.